Using a root cause analysis template for better documentation

Mark Galley

Large and Small Problems

Since 2000, companies in different industries have had us lead a root cause analysis for their specific problems. These are conducted both onsite and remotely through our RCA Help Desk. Every incident we’ve investigated, from relatively minor issues to catastrophic events (including fatality incidents), has been documented using our Cause Mapping Template™ in Microsoft Excel. It’s a simple and effective solution for clients because they’re able to use software they already have.

Cause Mapping® in Excel®

While Excel is known as a spreadsheet application, it also has some other incredible capabilities that are often overlooked.  For example, most people don’t know that Excel has two cursors: one for handling cells, one for objects. Once people learn our Excel tips, they have a new set of skills for organizing and presenting information at work. In our documentation skills courses, the most frequent comment we receive is “I’ve used Excel for years, but I had no idea it could do this.”


Haphazard documentation

The ways in which organizations document a root cause analysis varies widely. Some companies require a written report, some fill out a form, some just describe the incident in an email, and some capture the problem in a few PowerPoint slides. A confusing investigation is going to have a confusing record that will also have poor action items. In most companies, there is significant opportunity to improve the way problems are investigated, documented and communicated.

DOWNLOAD: Cause Mapping Root Cause Analysis Template in Excel

Create a structured record

With our Cause Mapping Template, the documentation of the incident occurs as the investigation progresses. Even with limited information the record of the incident begins immediately. It always starts simple. As details become available, the record continues to build. Keeping the facilitation and the documentation connected provides a structured approach for the investigation lead. Conversely, some organizations take copious notes during the investigation, which then gets typed into a final report at the end. That is a common approach, but it’s also the least efficient and takes the most work.

Make a visual dialogue

Sentences are an incredibly effective way to communicate information, but they are not the only way. Industrial companies regularly use diagrams: piping and instrument diagrams (P&IDs), process flow diagrams (PFDs), electrical schematics and mechanical drawings. Healthcare has highly skilled experts that specialize in imaging different parts and conditions within the body. The point is, communicating information visually can be more effective than sentences alone. Cause-and-effect relationships are essential for understanding how and why a problem occurred. Showing the confluence of these cause-and-effect relationships on a Cause Map makes complex problems easier to understand and better solutions, easier to find.

Get a copy of our root cause analysis template

Download a copy of the Cause Mapping Template in Excel to begin improving your skills.
The template has a worksheet for each step of a complete investigation:

1. Define the Problem.

2. Conduct the Analysis (Cause Map and Timeline).

3. Select the Solutions.

There are additional worksheets that include diagrams, photos, drawings, evidence, notes, versions, contacts and other supporting information. The photo editing in Excel allows you to insert, crop, edit, compress and label pictures. Experiment with the template on a current problem in your company. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

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